February 28, 2020

Why does a Jewish atheist bash Mormon marriage? Ask Bill Handel

Tonight I was looking forward to blogging on our just-completed family trip to Romania, but my plans were preempted by Bill Handel, the LA-based radio talk show host. Handel is a Jewish atheist (which makes him less than fully Jewish in my eyes) who discusses religion frequently on his show. This morning he made fun of the Mormon practice of eternal marriage, and I thought that it was important to set the record straight. I’m under no illusion that Bill will stop making fun of religious practices, but some of his listeners may care about the accurate portrayal of religion in the media.

During a discussion on the Catholic Church’s view on gay marriage (which he supports), Handel made a satirical swipe at the Mormon practice of eternal marriage. In our church, faithful couples are “sealed” together for eternity – not until death do them part – in our temples.  Any children that they have, or adopt, are also sealed to them in an eternal family unit.

What appears to irk Handel is the way in which this principle is applied to subsequent marriages. As he put it, let’s say that you are sealed to someone and she dies ten days later in a car crash. You go on to marry someone else and live with that spouse for 50 years. Who do you go to heaven with? According to Handel, the first spouse. He not only laughed at this, but he claimed to have asked Mormon friends about the policy, only to have them shrug their shoulders in frustration.

Truth be told, Handel is correct up to a point. A woman can usually only be sealed to one man. If he dies, she can remarry someone else until death do them part. [She can petition to have her sealing canceled, as can divorced Mormons who remarry, but I’ll stick to general principles for the purposes of this essay]. Men, however, can be sealed to more than one woman. If a man’s wife dies, he can marry someone else in the temple.

If Handel were only wrong about men being able to remarry in the temple, I wouldn’t care. However, there are some important principles that he needs to understand. First of all, while the Mormon Church does teach what it considers to be correct principles that will draw people close to God, it is silent on the ultimate fate of those who do not follow its teachings. For example, in my role as a bishop I counsel singles to remain chaste until marriage, and married couple to remain faithful to each other. If they don’t heed my counsel, I encourage them to repent and change their ways. What I don’t do is tell them that they’re going to hell unless they repent. Final judgment is in God’s hands, not ours. For Mormons, the identity of someone's celestial spouse is up to him, his spouse(s), and God to determine. 

Just as there is no compulsion in the church, Mormons don’t believe that God will force us to be miserable in the next life. Our prophets teach that if we are faithful, God will take care of us. It is therefore incorrect to say that Mormons believe that a Mormon woman who wants to spend eternity with a certain spouse will be forced to accept another one instead. What is accurate to say is that an LDS woman is usually allowed to be sealed to one man in our temples.

The final principle is that radio hosts who do not believe in God should be especially careful not to misrepresent others’ religious beliefs on the air. It was especially irritating to hear Handel claim that his Mormon friends don’t have answers to his questions.  If they really are your only Mormon sources, Bill, please give me a call the next time you want to bash us on the air. I can guarantee that my answers will make more sense than someone claiming to be Jewish who denies the existence of the God of Israel.